Genealogy

Using Newspapers in your Genealogy Research

When researching your ancestors, do you have any stories to go along with each person? This tends to be the more difficult aspect of doing genealogy as it’s so easy to go on FamilySearch, Ancestry, Find My Past, or even MyHeritage and find out when and where they were born, where they lived throughout their lives and even when they died. But figuring out who they were is a bit more challenging.

One of the ways I have learned about my family members is using newspapers. There are a variety of options available for free and with subscriptions for you to find stories about your relatives.

Free Options

Some historic newspapers are available for free (one of my favorite words). The most popular is Chronicling America ( https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/) which is a joint endeavor between the Library of Congress and National Endowment of the Humanities. It has newspapers from 1789-1963 that are digitized for your use.

Another free option may be available with your library card is Newspaper Archive Academic Library Edition (my library has this and can be accessed from my house, check out to see if your library has a newspaper database similar to this).

Subscription Options

Newspapers.com is one of the larger subscription sites for newspapers available for genealogy. They are owned by Ancestry.com so if you have a tree there, it is easy to attach the articles. Some subscriptions of Ancestry now include Newspapers.com (I believe you are accessing the articles through Ancestry searches though). Newspapers.com has 2 levels of subscriptions, basic and Publishers Extra. Publisher’s Extra is the higher priced edition but seems to have most of the newspapers I truly needed to find information and obituaries on my people (primarily because of the Akron Beacon Journal – but there were some key newspapers for the different areas of Pennsylvania I needed as well).

GenealogyBank is another popular website who is also expanding out from just newspapers to adding census information and the like. They have a great blog that is emailed out monthly as well.

Things to Look For

If you are going to spend the money on a subscription site I highly recommend looking at what newspapers that are available and the published years they have. I’ll confess I accidentally signed up for a subscription site and it was of no use to me because the issues they had published didn’t really help me in my genealogical searches (for example they had the Bedford Gazette from 1854-1857 only, and I needed from 1870 on). Both Newspapers.com and GenealogyBank list what newspapers they have available and their years of publication that is available on their sites (Newspapers.com will also note which newspapers are available on their more expensive level, Publishers Extra).

All of the websites have ways to narrow your search by state, date, name to help bring to light the information you are seeking.

What Can You Find?

You may be lucky enough to find all kinds of interesting tidbits about your relatives when you do newspaper searches. They can range from everyday occurrences to being a bit on the juicy side (older newspapers use to have sections detailing who checked in to the local hotels, and just good old “gossip” sections).

Below is one of my favorites that I discovered on a free weekend of Newspapers.com last Spring that actually convinced me to purchase a subscription. It is an article from The Potter Enterprise from the Thursday, February 11, 1904 edition:

The_Potter_Enterprise_Thu__Feb_11__1904_

Orienta (Gustin) Warner is my 3rd-Great-Grandmother on my mother’s side. They have her daughter’s name mis-typed here, it’s listed as Nellie but her nickname was Nettie. Her name is Jeanette Warner and she is my 3rd-Great-Aunt. I am assuming the fatherless child is her son, Thomas who was born in 1904.

In keeping with the same family, here is another article from The Potter Enterprise from August 14, 1913 edition – this actually lists my 2nd-Great-Grandmother (Mazie Warner Dunbar) twice, and her daughter (Myrtle Dunbar) once.

The_Potter_Enterprise_Thu__Aug_14__1913_

I’ve also learned that using newspapers can give you the full story on tragedies in your family as well. On my dad’s side, my 2nd-Great-Uncle, Charles Peter Childers, had 2-children die in a house fire. Going off stories typed up on Ancestry it makes it seem that half of his 13 children died in this fire, but when reading the newspaper headlines (along with finding the death certificates) you know it was only 2-children, Eva Childers, age 9 (the article is incorrect and have her listed as age 11) and Ralph Childers, age 2. This article I found using the library website. The below clippings (they were on 2-pages of the newspaper) is from the March 27, 1939 edition of the Altoona Mirror:

When I found the following article from the Akron Beacon Journal about my grandfather, Harold Fairhurst, my aunt proceeded to add to the story about how my grandfather had won a year’s supply of Pepsi for his hole in one, which jogged my memory of my mom telling me the same. It is from Thursday, September 17, 1964 edition:

The_Akron_Beacon_Journal_Thu__Sep_17__1964_

I continue to learn a lot about my family members by using newspapers. If nothing else, they are a wonderful source for obtaining obituaries so I am able to fill in the burial date and cemeteries in my genealogy program if I don’t have a death certificate.

If you have never taken the time to investigate your family in newspapers, I recommend checking it out. The weekend Newspapers.com was free last year was amazing me for me as I found so much interesting information. Now, if it could only make it easier to find George Blair in Blair County, PA, then I’d be set (FYI – anytime Blair for the County is mentioned I get a ding so when I searched just now there are 1,299,020 possibilities in Pennsylvania alone).

If you find or have found any interesting stories using newspapers, please share in the comments!

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, My Family Tree

Week #9: Disaster

I’ll admit I’m a week behind for Amy Johnson Crow’s challenge of 52 Ancestors in 52 weeks but I’ll confess, I was busy reading and hadn’t paid much attention (will hang my head in shame).  But I’m back for those who like to peruse my posts as this disaster always brings tears to my eyes.

25 March 1939

Ever since I discovered this fire a few years back, this date is now so ingrained in my brain I can’t help but remember it.  On this day almost 81 years ago, my great-great-uncle and his wife, Charles and Ethel Childers, decided to take a trip to the store, leaving their children in the care of their older brothers.  The brothers had gone fishing, and Eva, who was 9 at the time, began getting dinner started.  When she put the kerosene in the stove, it spilled and caused the oven to explode.  Eva ran outside, rolled around on the ground to extinguish the flames then ran more than a mile to the nearest neighbor for help.  From there she was taken to the hospital where she died.

By the time the neighbor made it to the house, the entire home was gone.  2-year old Ralph Childers died as he was upstairs napping and was unable to be saved.

Other children did get burns on their hands as they tried to put out the flames on Eva before she rolled on the ground.

The Newspaper Article – Altoona Mirror 27 Mar 1939

Eva & Ralph

I tried to find Eva & Ralph’s graves when I went back to Pennsylvania last summer.  I found their parent’s and their older brother but there was no grave marker for the two who had perished in that horrible fire.  My husband pointed to a plot of land that dipped down next to Charles and Ethel’s grave, stating they were most likely there (along with the other 3 young ones who passed, Orval, Phyllis and Denney).

Misinformation

I was surprised at how this fire has been exaggerated when you read about it on public family trees on Ancestry.  Because overall Charles and Ethel Childers had 3 other children pass away young (poor nutrition) many have poorly assumed they died in this fire.  Just 2, but in my world these 2 were too many.

My Own Bad Attitude

I know it’s a different time and place but I couldn’t imagine going off to go shopping and leaving my kids alone in the care of their brothers. I know they didn’t know their older boys would go off fishing, and I know girls at age 9 often did the cooking for the family back then, but I look at my own daughter and never would have dreamed her cook a meal at the age of 9 (she hasn’t offered and she just turned 16).

For a long while I use to refer to Charles and Ethel sarcastically as the “greatest parents in the world”.  At the time that Eva and Ralph died in the fire, Ethel was pregnant.  Her daughter Phyllis Fern was born 30 May 1939 and ended up passing away on 10 October 1939 of Malnutrition.  The same happened with a son who was born 9 August 1944, dying on 7 December 1944.

How I’ve Come Around

After realizing that Ethel had other issues, I’m wondering if after having lost her children in a fire, if she was also dealing with post partum depression on top of regular depression.  Various newspaper articles have reported her being in the hospital herself within a month of her babies passing.  Where I use to be quite judgmental of the couple, especially Ethel, I find myself compromising that there was more going on with her situation than meets the eye.  I probably wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if something happened to my children, and its so nice we have other options in this day and age if our children aren’t getting the nutrients they need there is now formula.  I know my own mother had issues with my older sister and she had to switch when my sister was very young.  She never even tried, she just formula fed me.

But there is also birth control, and I think that in a nutshell may have helped Ethel a bit.  No one acknowledged post partum depression in the 1920’s through the 1940’s, and it appears she was quite fertile and that probably didn’t help her mentally either.  And with depression getting such a bad reputation back in the day she was probably fearful of being placed in an asylum.

I’m quite happy things have changed in the 81 years since this fire.  Kerosene isn’t a regular way of cooking inside a home anymore.  More safety precautions are in place and going to the store isn’t an all day excursion (well, depending on what you are looking for). But everyday more and more is being done for mental health.

As for Eva and Ralph – may their souls still rest in peace.